The Genius Machine – What is Thinking?

By Gerald Sindell in Management on May 10th, 2009 / No Comments

My work is to help people think. My clients write books, create innovative solutions, develop brilliant breakthroughs, and endeavor to make the world a better place.

During the last twenty years of working with business leaders to build their personal reputations, and to enhance the profile of their organizations, I created a system for developing intellectual property – ideas.

Not long ago a number of my clients turned the tables on me and suggested I take a little of my own medicine and organize my methodology. I eventually distilled my process down to eleven essential steps. I wrote a draft outline and circulated it among many of my clients, asking if it captured what they had found valuable. With their comments and further refinement, that system is what you now hold in your hands. I call it the Endleofon (END-leo-fahn), an old English word for “eleven.”

Using this process, I have helped dozens of authors create books that have sold many millions of copies. I have helped leaders in many fields learn to articulate their core knowledge so they could better share it with others. Recently I worked with one of the top two Internet companies to help them complete the development of a core knowledge area, and to turn that into a book that may soon help millions of people all over the globe.

What’s so good about the Endleofon system?
It’s fast, it’s complete, it helps people quickly get to the bottom of what they need to think through, and it anticipates the outreach part of innovation at the very beginning. It is not unusual for an individual or group working with the process to suddenly realize that they can speed through a development cycle in days, not months or years. And with the Endleofon, innovations are always developed with the understanding that it’s tough to get new ideas accepted.

What else do you need to know about me so we can get started? Simply, I am driven to deliver valuable knowledge and ideas to the people who would benefit from that knowledge. Whether this means a subsistence farmer trying to increase his yield, a Swiss banker needing a fresh view of the global economy, or a young person anywhere trying to figure out how to plan a satisfying life, I am eager to diffuse ideas and to improve the process of diffusion. The terrible gap that lies be-tween existing knowledge and the persistance of ignorance – and its concomitant poverty, illness, and suffering – drives me crazy.

Enough about me. Let’s start thinking!
What is thinking? Some thinking is actually contemplation  – thinking about something you’d like to eat or a place you might like to visit someday. Some thinking is problem solving  – two trains, each carrying twelve penguins, leave Philadelphia at the same time traveling in opposite directions. How will the penguins get back in touch?

This book is about a third kind of thinking, one that is directed toward improving an existing idea, thinking through a complete issue, or creating something new. We use this kind of thinking when we’re designing a house, creating a better way for people in our company to work together, or coming up with a better method for kids to learn something. This kind of thinking is about creating something with a particular goal in mind. If we’re successful, we’ll have a better toaster, a better company, a better school system, a better way to choose political leaders.

Imagine how the world would be if everyone could be really smart when they needed to be. The best ideas would always be the ones we’d chose to use, we’d find great solutions for all our problems, organizations would reflect the best values of its employees more often than not, and the world would be one wonderful place to live.

The kind of creative thinking encouraged by the Endleofon is not about simply choosing from various alternatives. If a particular existing choice answers the need perfectly, then fine, we should choose it. But creative thinking is also capable of helping us quickly see when the existing choices aren’t good enough and that we need to develop something better.

Creative thinking has had some pretty good results so far. It has yielded the wheel, democracy, the Internet, and Morbier cheese, with the morning milk on the bottom and the afternoon milk on top, separated by a layer of wood ash. Brilliant! One might assume that, since this kind of thinking is so valuable, there’s probably a pretty well-established way to go about it already out there.

And yet surprisingly, there is no generally accepted system for creative thinking. Put a bunch of people in a room and ask them to solve a complex problem, and the first thing they’re going to do is create a process for solving the problem, because there isn’t one on the shelf, ready to use.

What did you learn in school about creative thinking? Most really creative kids get directed into an art class if they want to express themselves. How about math? Did you learn creative ways to solve problems there? Most of us learned a prescribed way to solve math problems and to come up with the right answer. How many “creative” projects did you have in all of high school? How about in college and beyond?

Even if you pursued a PhD, you may have found that creativity is generally channeled into the narrowest of purposes  – to move the knowledge in your chosen field a few inches further. That’s how academic knowledge works. It’s not surprising, then, that learning how to think creatively in an organized process is simply not an important part of our formal education.

Then comes the real world. In order to develop ourselves, for our companies to flourish, and for our world to improve, we need to be able to think creatively, not just solve problems. We require the ability to create brilliant new solutions, to invent what has never existed before. In the real world, the most valued skills are the ones for which we have little training and no rulebook.

Even when we have a pretty good new idea, we don’t have a ready system to guide us in developing, testing, and refining it and then stepping back and seeing whether, underneath it all, we’ve come up with something that’s just a little new, or something really, really important.

I hope the Endleofon will change that. It’s a system that can help you get from the beginning of a problem – whether it be a complex one that needs solving or a brilliant vision that needs filling out – to the point where your work is fully developed and ready to take its rightful place in the world.

About the author:
Gerald Sindell is the founder of Thought Leaders International, a firm that guides leaders and organizations of all kinds to maximize their return on the most precious capital of all: their ideas. Sindell works with such corporate clients as Yahoo!, Accenture, GE, Alcoa, InBev, Booz Allen, as well as leading business authors. He lives in Tiburon, CA and his is website is

From the book The Genius Machine.  Copyright © 2009 by Gerald Sindell. Reprinted with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA. or 800/972-6657 ext. 52.

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